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The evolution of sustainable building examined at Buildex Calgary

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by Jean Sorensen

As green buildings become increasingly popular in Canada, the question emerging out of the U.S. is whether such rating systems are becoming a marketing ploy rather than moving construction towards real innovation and sustainability.
The evolution of sustainable building examined at Buildex Calgary

Specifically, the criticism that has appeared in U.S. major papers has been focused on LEED, labelling it as inefficient in building operation and subject to a focus on gaming for points rather than efficiencies.

The April 2014, Forbes Magazine had an article entitled LEED-Certified Buildings Are Often Less Energy-Efficient Than Uncertified Ones.

Four U.S. states have also banned the use of LEED in new public buildings: Alabama, Georgia, Maine and Mississippi.

The Project for Lean Urbanism, a U.S. movement encompassing those in construction and wanting to streamline the industry, has released a paper by Robert Orr, an award-winning planner and architect.

It is called The Problems With LEED. He points out deficiencies such as brownfield site repatriation recouping as many points as installing bike racks, buildings not living up to energy model and the lack of drivers for innovation even in the new LEED v4.

While gaming for points is linked to tax breaks in the U.S., Orr concludes that LEED remains a strong standard and unscathed by detractors, but eventually the system will be questioned.

"Unsubstantiated success cannot last forever," he stated.

Orr's article is another indication that green systems are coming under greater scrutiny and those planning green structures need to be aware of the pros and cons of various rating systems.

Ben Campbell, project manager of sustainable buildings at WSP Canada Inc., said green certifications are being used more and more today to attract tenants to buildings, while some corporations have mandates to situate in a green structure.

But, it is a changing landscape.

"The rating systems that we have now, may or may not be those we have five years from now," said Campbell.

He is a speaker at this year's Buildex along with co-panelist Kyle Smith, project associate at WSP Canada.

The two panelists will compare and contrast the major rating systems, such as BOMA, WELL and LEED, at a session entitled BOMA is known to focus on the operations side of a building, LEED targets improving building performance at the higher 25 per cent of the market, while emergent WELL looks at how the building promotes human wellness.

The session will focus on providing those in construction with a better understanding of the various rating systems and which system will achieve objectives of a building owner.

Campbell said the panel will also talk about the process of recertification of LEED Existing Building (EB), a 2009 introduced rating systems that measures operations, improvements and maintenance with a goal of maximizing efficiencies while minimizing environmental impact.

Unlike other LEED certifications for new buildings, LEED EB building owners must file for recertification at least once every five years to retain that status.

Many of these LEED EB structures are now getting to the point of needing to be certified again.

"My sense is that the (recertification) system is not as well understood as it could be because it is a new concept," Campbell said.

There are about 173 LEED EB structures certified in Canada and another 236 that are registered to LEED EB.

New and recertified buildings will also be affected by LEED v.4 in the future.

LEED v4 is a more comprehensive update looking at building materials through various approaches such as life cycle and environmental declarations.

Emphasis is placed on building performance, how it handles water and energy conservation plus considers new features such as integrated design, envelop commissioning and acoustics.

LEED v.4 was launched in 2013, but in order to facilitate a transition to the new system for new structures, LEED Canada 2009 was in place until June 2015 and LEED EB recertification will transition in during 2016.

Smith said the panelists will focus on the drivers of the various green rating systems.

"There are also variances in their complexities, the financial commitment and the compliances," he said,

It will provide the construction team and owner a better understanding of time and costs associated with a decision.  Currently, there is controversy over how LEED structures perform in terms of energy consumption, with much of it flowing from the U.S. Forbes article and the lack of follow-up to see how computer projected models perform in real life.

Smith said that building owners should also be aware that distortions can result in the various systems and a building's energy modelling showing energy savings may not stand up.

He pointed out that while energy modelling is effective, problems that can arise from the application.

He gives the example of a structure that was modelled to operate eight hours a day and then moves into becoming a structure that operates 24 hours a day after construction, or, an office building that when finished has a data centre move in.

In both cases, the energy requirements rise above what was projected.

"The building is not operated the way the energy model projected, once it is finished," he said.

The Evolving ABC's of Green Building Labeling takes place Wednesday, Nov. 4 at 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

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